Since the beginning of true sportbikes and sportbike riders, we have always had a toxic relationship with wanting to push these machines to their limits. Some may say it’s human nature to make something and find its breaking point. While others may claim that this style of riding is a phase for new riders who haven’t learned to respect their machine yet. Regardless of which side of the fence you are on, we all choose to ride these beastly machines in search of the thrill of speed, but sadly we must also subject ourselves to the risks that are so closely tied to the rewards.
Police departments everywhere have their hands full enough with the daily routines of their “normal” lives so when you introduce a highly maneuverable 2 wheeled rocketship, that can top out at 160+MPH in a matter of seconds, bad things are bound to happen and relationships between law enforcement and the operators are expected to be strained. Sportbike riders are stereotyped as being reckless individuals with little to no respect for safety, laws, or public roads. In fact, there is such a stigma against motorcyclists, that it has almost become second nature for bikers to be predisposed to dislike police and do everything we can to avoid an interaction. However, there is a sector of law enforcement that is determined to fix this very strained relationship and guide riders to becoming more safe and responsible on the road. The FSU Police Department out of Tallahassee Florida is here to help in the most unique and head turning way possible. They have created a program to get ‘at risk’ or new riders off of the road and to a place where they can really push their limits without endangering themselves or others. Their program allows riders who have never been on a designated sportbike track to go to one with a group of highly experienced riders, where they can increase their riding abilities in a controlled environment and (hopefully) leave the fast life for the track.
Like every great story it all started with a vision. Back in 2009, Officer Brett Sheffield and Officer Jason Harris pitched the Florida State University Police Department Motorsports Team concept to the Major and Chief of their department, and surprisingly enough, they loved the idea! The goal was to use this program as a tool to get the attention of the public to spread their message of traffic safety. Before Officer Harris began his career in law enforcement he had ridden with motorcycle groups that were involved in things such as street racing and stunt riding. Several friends of his had done a few track days and a few others started racing with WERA, all of them were trying to talk Mr. Harris into doing his first track day. After much coercion, he finally caved and gave the track a shot. As it has done with many riders before and will continue to do so in the future, the track life took a hold of Harris and he was hooked! He soon ripped his machine apart and converted his street bike into a track-dedicated motorcycle and stopped riding on the street altogether. Officer Harris quickly became the guy who was trying to talk his friends into doing their first track day and getting off the street. He was dumbfounded at how many riders were just like he had been, always thinking about going to the track but never really making the effort to go through with it. However once they were able to seize the opportunity to ride their motorcycle the way it was designed, on a closed course at high speeds and low angles, they too realized that street riding just wasn’t nearly as exciting or safe as track riding. After several years in law enforcement and a countless amount of track days, Jason has an epiphany and realized that he could design a program around this phenomena that would benefit law enforcement and riders alike! Being a part of it at one point, he knew and understood the street-race and stunt culture, and still had ties to riders in these groups throughout the state. This provided him the access he needed to a demographic of riders that is known to have a bad reputation for being reckless and very anti-law enforcement.
Believe it or not, the program was initially funded almost completely out of his own pocket with some additional funding coming from private donations. Eventually the Florida Department of Transportation heard about the program in 2014 and awarded them a grant to take the program statewide. FDOT realized most of their programs were geared more toward cruiser riders, but the number of speed related fatalities was increasing as well as the number of sportbike related incidents and fatalities. Being the only known program of its kind, there was little to no data to show the effectiveness of a program of this type. Fortunately for FSUPD, FDOT believed in Jason’s vision and took a chance on the program.
Nick Vetrano, current owner of Track Life Inc. and previous owner of GotTrack.net, is the lead instructor for the first-time track rider program. Officer Harris attended events Nick had hosted under GotTrack.net and was really impressed with how he conducted the events. The level of instruction he provided in the Novice, Intermediate and Expert classes was exceptional and very in depth. When the program was started, Officer Harris had asked Nick about partnering with them to provide instruction and he agreed. So once Officer Harris had received word from FDOT regarding their grant award, Nick was the first person he contacted.
To date, the program and its founders have provided 41 unique motorcyclists an opportunity to attend their first track day and obtain one-on-one instruction from Nick and Officer Harris. The program provides these first-time track riders not only with instruction but also helps them find a way to get the track, helping to pay for the track events, and any other help they may need. FSUPD hosted 7 track day events in 2015 and have hosted 5 so far in 2016 with another 4 already on the schedule. FSUPD travels across all of Florida hitting Jennings GP (JGP), Palm Beach International Raceway (PBIR) and Homestead Miami Speedway (HMS) to hold these events. The Jennings GP events are hosted by the great people at SouthernTrackDays.com who both us and FSUPD have formed a tight-knit relationship with over the past few years. The PBIR and HMS events are hosted by FloridaTrackDays.com who have also been really great to work with for FSUPD. Without these two track organizations, their program probably wouldn’t exist at the level it does. Be sure to checkout some awesome shots of riders and their coaches below!
For street riders interested in being sponsored to attend their first track day, here’s how it works; Riders must be Florida residents and have never attended a track day. They must also have the following requirements listed below, met, prior to attending the event;
- Riders must have a proper leather suit, this can be a 1-piece or 2-piece. However a 2-piece must have a 360° zipper. Rentals are often available through the organizer or the track.
- Road race boots must extend well above the pantleg and strap above the ankle
- Gauntlet gloves must extend well above the sleeve/wrist and have a strap above the wrist.
- Full face DOT approved helmet free from damage.
- A clean functional motorcycle, free from leaks or lose parts.
- Throttle must return on its own, we must hear the snap.
- Tires and brakes must be in good condition with at least 50% life remaining.
- FSU/DOT will cover approximately $100.00 of the entry fee for the one day. The sponsored rider is responsible for the remaining cost. This varies depending on the organizer and the venue. It can range between $60-$105.
- You are also responsible for any gate fees for yourself as well as any family and/or friends accompanying you. This is typically $10.00 per person.
- You’re responsible for your own fuel. We will typically use about (1) full tank of gas in a day. About 5 gallons.
- You must provide your own food. Some events have food vendors, but not all. Please ask if you need to know about a specific event.
FSUPD has a few loaner suits, gloves, and boots which have been donated to the program but are very limited on the available sizes. (They are always looking for and accepting donations of track gear, contact SGT Jason Harris on their Facebook page for more info on how you can help!)
Riders who meet the requirements must “like” their Facebook page and send a message with a little info on themselves, about why they should be chosen, and which event they would prefer to attend. Along with this, riders also need to send in their contact info such as phone number and email address. FSUPD reviews all the messages they receive, tries to identify the “at risk riders” or the riders they feel would benefit the most, and contact the recipients approximately a month before the event date via email.
The goal of the program is reduce the number of speed related motorcycle fatalities, crashes, and really just provide some higher level training for sportbike riders. Anyone who has ever done a track day knows that there is so much to be learned on the track that can help them to be a safer rider and avoid taking unnecessary risks on the street. Learning the capabilities of your motorcycle allows you to better react to threats and situations while street riding. Knowing how to slow your motorcycle quickly to avoid a car that just pulled out in front of you, or how to use your body position to better allow you to maneuver around the gravel that just fell out the back of a dump truck, could potentially save your life on the street. The techniques this program and track riding teach, can be applied to everyday street riding, making graduates of the course safer riders if/when they return to the street. Many of them have given up street riding altogether and have turned their focus to track days and even racing. And if you think learning is only for users of this program, you got another thing coming. SGT Harris and Nick are constantly taking on new challenges and pushing their riding abilities to the next level. they had the pleasure of attending and successfully completing the Yamaha Champions Riding School at New Jersey Motorsports Park. This riding school is known as “Life changing” and “The best motorcycle riding school money can buy”. Finding teachers and organization with coaches who want to constantly learn to become better is a sure sign of a school that is not looking for your money, but for you to truly hone in on your skills.
FSUPD also sponsors Nick Vetrano to race in the FMRRA and CCS Florida events, where he has been quite successful with a total of 7 wins, 7-2nd place finishes and 5-3rd place finishes this season.
Below are a few testimonials of riders who have used the FSUPD Track Program. You can read even more on their Facebook page.
Seth Bailey – March 30, 2016 – I was part of the very first FSU PD trip to Jennings GP and I will say that it changed my life in a great way! I will admit I was an immature college student with a need for speed and made poor choices trying to fulfill those needs on the streets. Jason, Nick(and Kelly!), and the rest of the crew opened my eyes to a new world. I learned how to master my machine; realizing along the way I was far less knowledgeable than I confidently thought. I learned how to turn efficiently and safely, how to operate my brakes and throttle to keep me moving on my desired path. Most importantly I found a way to get my need for speed in a safe place with great coaches. And when I say coaches I mean a good amount of 1-on-1 personal training both on and off the track that you would have to pay $1000’s for anywhere else!
They’re a great group doing an awesome service trying to introduce the speed demons to a safe place and away from the street. We can say “look twice for motorcycles” to those driving cars but it will never be enough to keep street riders safe. The absolute best way to be safe on the street is to learn how to operate your machine to the best of its ability. On the track you will learn to brake harder and make quick evasive maneuvers that will help you avoid other drivers and accidents on the street.
I will recommend this program every day of the week because I sincerely believe they saved my life by taking my speed off the street.
Taylor Guistwite – March 30, 2016 – The FSU PD Motorsports team is comprised of some of the most friendly and passionate individuals I’ve met in a long time. I recently attended two track days at Jennings GP with the team, and learned more in those two days than I have in my two years of riding on the street. Not only are they extremely knowledgeable, but the level of care they take to making sure they address each riders concerns is unparalleled.
If you have the desire to improve as a rider, do so in a safe environment, and make new friends… Then FSU PD Motorsports’ program is the right one for you.
Michael Graham – April 4, 2016 – I recently attended a track weekend with the FSU PD Motorsports Team and the knowledge I gained made me a better, safer rider. It was an informational weekend that also was a ton of fun too! Everyone there was super supportive and friendly. Between the classroom time and the way instructors there invited questions, I learned more in one weekend than I had learned in years of riding on the street. They hooked me, I want to be back on the track where it’s safe to have fun.
Thien Nguyen – March 28, 2016 – I just did a track day with this group at Jennings. Even though it was rained out, I still had a great time. This was my first track day and surely won’t be the last. The guys were able to break down every section of the track and explain different approaches to taking corners. Nick did an excellent job teaching in the classroom. He explained body position, braking, and taking different lines. I really enjoyed the 1-on-1 instruction. I was able to have guys follow me and tell me things I was doing wrong. Then I was able to follow guys and learn their lines. Overall, it was a great day and I really appreciate the program and what these guys do. Just wanted to give special thanks to Jason Vaughn and Jason Harris for the personal instruction.